Scott Darling has solidified his role as the backup in Chicago with a shutout of the Rangers Wednesday night, but he’s still a long way from the starting job. There are, however, several backups that could be ready for the spotlight next season.
In Wednesday’s win over the New York Rangers, Chicago backup netminder Scott Darling showed exactly why the Blackhawks inked him to a two-year extension. And, with the win, he made the backup goaltending job in Chicago that much more interesting.
With the shutout – the first of Darling’s professional career – it adds more credence to the belief that Antti Raanta’s time might be up as Corey Crawford’s backup. But the move from starting AHL netminder to NHL second-stringer, which Darling made, is a common one. Next season, however, could see the rise of more than a few backup goaltenders to first-string duty.
Here are the five goaltenders you can most expect to challenge for a starting gig:
5) Eddie Lack, Vancouver Canucks
Three years ago, Lack was behind Roberto Luongo and Corey Schneider in the rotation. Now he’s ahead of Jacob Markstrom, but the Canucks went and got Ryan Miller in the off-season. With Markstrom’s play in the AHL and Miller getting big bucks to start for Vancouver, there’s potential for Lack to get moved so the Canucks can shed his salary.
Lack has appeared in 30 games this season, has a 12-9-3 record, 2.38 goals-against average and .921 save percentage. He has been exceptional in the AHL and he has the size to be a dominating NHL goaltender if he can be put in the right situation.
With one year remaining on his deal at $1.3 million, it’s not a necessity that the Canucks ship him out, but Lack’s patience might be wearing thin.
4) Martin Jones, Los Angeles Kings
The Kings have been the Kings this year, but Jonathan Quick hasn’t really been the Jonathan Quick many would have expected. After struggling early on, however, Quick has recovered nicely, but he still ranks 23rd in 5-on-5 save percentage of goaltenders that have played at least 500 minutes.
While Jones ranks a bit lower – a difference of 0.62 drops him to 34th out of 60 on that same list – he’s shown enough that he could very well be trade bait should the Kings want to move him along at some point in the off-season. To make things even more interesting, Jones is a restricted free agent at the end of the year, so moving him might be necessary if the Kings want to lock up some of their other RFAs and UFAs.
Jones has a 2.21 GAA and .909 SP in 13 appearances for the Kings, so his puck stopping has left something to be desired this season. However, three shutouts in 10 decisions might be enticing to some GMs around the league. And with Quick’s monster contract, he’s not going anywhere, so Jones getting shipped out makes sense.
3) Antti Raanta, Chicago Blackhawks
Raanta’s demotion was met with a bit of head scratching, but Darling’s extension hours later made sense of it all. Coach Joel Quenneville has said Raanta is still in the team’s plans, but he hasn’t made his way back to the NHL yet and, barring an injury to Crawford, Raanta likely won’t be suiting up for the Blackhawks again this season.
The 25-year-old Finn is only in his second season of North American hockey, so it’s hard to say what exactly he’ll be able to do as a starting netminder, but his 7-4-1 record, 1.89 GAA and .936 SP in 14 appearances this season all look great. His numbers last season weren’t as pleasing to the eye – 2.71 GAA and .897 SP – but he might be a cheap option for a struggling team like Edmonton or Buffalo.
2) Cam Talbot, New York Rangers
Talbot was Darling’s opposition Wednesday, and were it not for a Brad Richards tally midway through the third period the two teams likely would have played to a scoreless tie through regulation and overtime. Talbot was that good. That’s not surprising given with Talbot in goal and Henrik Lundqvist on the shelf, the Rangers have taken over first place in the Metropolitan Division and look near unbeatable.
You can be certain Rangers GM Glen Sather will be getting more than a handful of calls about his star backup this summer, too. Talbot is 27, has a 17-7-4 record in 30 apperances and has posted a 2.15 GAA and .928 SP.
What might keep him in New York, however, is that he’s got one more year left on his deal, but the $1.45 million price tag might be enough to get Sather listening. Extensions for Mats Zuccarello and Marc Staal kick in next season, Derek Stepan, Carl Hagelin, J.T. Miller and Jesper Fast are in line for new deals as RFAs and they could even attempt to bring back veteran Martin St-Louis.
If Talbot’s available, he could be an opening night starter next season.
1) Alex Stalock, San Jose Sharks
Stalock is going to get his shot next year with the Sharks, and you can just about bank on that. San Jose is running Antti Niemi as their starter right now, but he’s an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season and the Sharks won’t bring him back unless he comes exceptionally cheap. Even then, it’s doubtful Niemi wins the starting job away from Stalock.
Up until a few blowouts this season, Stalock had a respectable GAA of 2.22 and SP of .920. However, he’s fallen apart in his few starts down the stretch and those numbers have slipped to 2.65 and .903. Last season, though, Stalock was one of the best backup goaltenders in the league, posting a 1.87 GAA and .932 SP. If he can recapture that form, it’s going to be hard to argue against him as the Sharks every day netminder.
Stalock has one year remaining on his contract before becoming a UFA, so if he doesn’t work out in goal the Sharks can go ahead and bring in someone who will. But if his career numbers are any indication, he should be just fine in San Jose.